India ignores its Tourist Paradise, While South Korea cherishes & promote theirs

It’s a shame that the beautiful coral islands of Lakshadweep in India are going waste from a tourism perspective. Even Indian nationals require a special permit to visit Lakshadweep (http://lakshadweep.nic.in/depts/revenue/entry_permits.htm). No wonder that tourism there is not developed at all. See this photo below to understand exactly what we are wasting.
Agatti Island, Lakshadweep
See this blog for more on Lakshadweep tourism: Top Tourist Places in LakshadweepContrast this with Jeju island of South Korea. A beautiful volcanic island, that South Korea is actively promoting for tourism. Nationals of most countries do not require visas for Jeju Island – even if they do require visas for the rest of South Korea (Indian nationals included). . India should learn a thing or two from its Asian neighbours.
Photos from Jeju Island:


Get more info at the Official Site for Korean Tourism

Advertisements

New process for French Schengen Visa (guest post)

Guest post by Kunal. He is a US resident, currently in the UK on a short-term visa (6 to 9 months).
—————————————————–

Visa Type: Schengen Visa (tourist)
Issuing Country: France
Application Centre: TLS Contact Center, near Olympia Tube station, London

Duration of Visa Granted: 6 months
Number of days stay granted: 90 days
Time taken for processing: 2 days

Requirements:
All the standard Schengen visa documents — hotel bookings, flight bookings, photo, passport, application form, travel insurance, letter from employer, covering letter, bank statements, paychecks.

Experience:
We were able to make an appointment for one week later. There was a queue at the center and we were issued a number. Our number was not called and we saw people who came in after us being processed. When we brought that to the supervisor’s attention, she blamed it on a glitch and immediately asked us to proceed to the next available counter. The lady at the counter was nice and courteous and confirmed that we had submitted everything on the check list. The process took about 10 minutes.
We had submitted one confirmed itinerary and multiple travel plans over the next 4 months. We also had a one-year travel insurance policy. Our travel plans were for 10-12 days after the appointment. While they did not promise that we would receive the visa by that date, we received it on the third day.
Got an SMS e Email from VFS telling us that the application was sent to the French Embassy, and another SMS and Email when the Embassy returned our passports. Passport collection was painless as well.

Special Circumstances:
Since we are in London for a short-term (6-9 months) only, all our paychecks, bank statements were American. That did not seem to be a problem in obtaining the visa. There was also no problem with submitting printed copies of our paychecks and bank statements. We did have an employment verification letter from my employer in the UK.

Key points to keep in mind:
1. Book an appointment for applying. Plan ahead because appointments fill up fast.
2. Have all documents in order based on the checklist. They follow that checklist very strictly and having your documents in order will mean you spend less time on the counter.
3. List multiple travel plans over the duration that you wish to request visa for. This ensures that your need for a longer-term visa is explicit.
4. Make sure your travel insurance is valid across all planned trips otherwise you might end up with a shorter duration visa.

Tip about France: Get off the beaten path. Skip Paris and go south to the Alps. The pics below show a peak near Chamonix and sunset over Lac Leman.

Sunset over Lac Leman View from St Gervais

Belgium Schengen Visa experience in London

Visa Type: Schengen Visa (tourist)
Issuing Country: Belgium
Application Centre: VFS, Soho Square, London

Duration of Visa Granted: 3 months
Number of days stay granted: 14 days
Time taken for processing: 2 days

Requirements:
All the standard Schengen visa documents — hotel bookings, flight bookings, photo, passport, application form, travel insurance, letter from employer, covering letter.

Experience:
There was a long queue at the VFS centre, but it moved quickly. Once inside the centre, we were issued a number. Our number was called within 10 minutes. We spent another 10 mins with the lady at the counter.

Got an SMS and Email from VFS telling us when the application was sent to the Belgian Embassy, and another SMS and Email when the Embassy returned our passports.

There was another queue to collect the passports. No appointment system for collection.

Overall very smooth experience.

Key points to keep in mind:
1. Book an appointment for applying.
2. Arrive 10-15 mins before appointment time (no earlier than that).
3. Arrive 15 mins early for collecting passport
4. Be prepared to stand in line (in the open-air) for 15-20 minutes at application and collection.
5. Costs an extra £26 per head to apply at VFS.

Entering Schengen Area before Visa Start date – not possible :)

Well that is not surprising, now is it?

Someone I know closely recently planned to visit Paris. When they had checked in on the Eurostar at St. Pancras Station, and were at the immigration window, did they they realize there was a problem. The officer pointed out that they visa started 2 weeks later.

The officer then called a policeman, who escorted them out of the Eurostar area, and gave them a ‘refused entry’ paper. Not sure if this will affect their future visa applications.

But the lesson is, be sure that you don’t try to travel to the Schengen area before the visa start date.

First Time Cruising – Indian in the Caribbean

Being Indian, two things struck me soon after I boarded the Celebrity Summit in Puerto Rico:
1. My wife and I were part of a small minority among the passengers (under 45 years old, non-white, childless couples).
2. The staff on the Ship was predominantly Hindi speaking.

This was unsurprising. Indians tend to put up with a lot of hardship, to make a living. But we, as a nation, are not as happy to spend our hard earned money on luxuries. The staff on the ship typically spends 6 months at sea, at a stretch. Living in cramped quarters, getting shore leave once every 2 or 3 weeks for half a day. Not an ideal life.

It was easy to feel out of place, but at the same time completely ignore everyone else on the ship. The population was predominantly white republican Americans, aged over 45. We couldn’t really find anything in common with them, and after the first day, stopped going to ‘social events’ on the ship. It was funny when the ship’s stand-up comedian asked “who here likes Obama”. The theatre echoed with “boos”.

The ship was luxurious though. A bit excessive even. The service was impeccable and we were made to feel very welcome and well looked after. But we also had to cough up $25 a day in tips, in addition to the cost of the cruise. They had an excellent Gym & Spa. The pool was boring and small. The food was good, but not so good if you are vegetarian like us.

Top tips for first time cruisers (especially Indians):
1. No need for visas (or even passports) in Caribbean ports. But carry photocopies of your passport anyway.
2. Bad idea carrying passports to shore excursions — it can get wet or stolen. I managed to drench my drivers license and about $20 cash.
3. Carry a photo ID other than your passport — will need that to get back on the ship.
4. No need to buy a ‘drinks package’ in advance, unless you plan on heavy drinking.
5. All food was included, at least on this ship. Except for one fancy restaurant.
6. Avoid ship organised shore excursions when you can — crowded and generally not worth the price. Explore on your own.
7. Plan a budget before going, and then double it. Your holiday is guaranteed to turn out to be VERY expensive.

Pirating the Caribbean – Visas on the high seas

My wife and I had planned to honeymoon in the Caribbean, but had some rather funny visa problems ( see old post ). So we ended up going to Hawaii instead.

Now we plan to pirate the Caribbean sea once again. We have signed up for a cruise on Celebrity Solstice, departing Puerto Rico (USA) and returning to Puerto Rico. The table below lists destinations the ship is visiting, and the visa situation.

Destination Visa on Cruise Visa Otherwise Motivation to go
Puerto Rico (USA) Need a valid US visa to enter Puerto Rico. The cruise starts from here, and we arrive here by air. Valid US visa needed Old San Juan
St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands Valid US visa needed. The cruise company has advised us that we require a US visa for the US Virgin Islands, despite going there for 1 day on a cruise. Valid US Visa Needed Trunk Bay, St. John, US Virgin Islands
Sint Maarten / Saint Martin Cruise Ship passengers do not require a visa for stays of less than 48 hours. The Dutch embassy in London (and I assume other cities around the world) issues visas to Sint Maarten. Not sure if the French Embassy issues visas for Saint Martin. FYI, the island is shared by Netherlands and France. Phillipsburg Harbour, St. Maarten
Antigua Cruise Ship Passengers do not require a visa to Antigua & Barbuda Tourist visa required by Indian passport holders. There is no Antiguan embassy in India. However, their High Commission in London will accept applications from Indian nationals. Boat in Antigua
St. Lucia Cruise Ship Passengers do not require a visa to St. Lucia I have written to the High Commission to find out. I have read somewhere that Commonwealth citizens do not require a visa The Pitons, St. Lucia
Barbados Cruise Ship Passengers do not require a visa to Barbados Tourist visa required by Indian passport holders. There is no Barbados embassy in India. However, their High Commission in London will accept applications from Indian nationals. Thunderclouds

Hope this helps you plan your travels to the region!

Update:
I am just finishing up this trip. I had no trouble at all with visas. My US B1/B2 visa was perfectly valid for Puerto Rico (this was my 3rd entry to the USA on this visa). I have had no trouble using the B1/B2 visa for business and tourism. No other country on this trip demanded a visa (or even a passport).

Sources:
St. Maarten: http://www.dutchembassyuk.org/consular/index.php?i=538
Antigua & Barbuda: http://www.antigua-barbuda.org/Agtip01.htm
St. Lucia: http://www.stlucia.gov.lc/faq/do_i_need_a_visa_to_enter_saint_lucia.htm#Visa_Fees_And_Exemptions

Manchester & Birmingham

I spent the day yesterday traveling to Manchester and Birmingham. Its always interesting to see the lives of Indian expats in the British Midlands. The most striking experience was a conversation I had with a middle-aged Gujarati gentleman who had emigrated to Britain in the 60s. He, and others like him, have lived a tough life. He spent his early childhood in rural Gujarat. Then one day his father, who was a farmer, decided to take him away to Mombasa (Kenya) – where he received his high-school education. Then to avoid persecution during the nationalist movements of Central Africa in the 60s, this gentleman moved to the Midlands without a penny to his name. He struggled through labour-jobs in racist factories. He became an electrician, though he wasn’t qualified. Through holding many such jobs, he got a house, brought his parents over to England, and raised a happy family, giving his kids all the opportunities and comforts he could only have dreamt of in his childhood. His is an inspiring life. And such are the stories of many immigrants in Britain.

In Manchester, I went to see a premier league football match – my first.
Wayne Rooney winning multiple awards
I even met Denis Irwin and got the chance to hold the Carling cup in my hand. I wish I knew who Denis was and what the Carling cup was. I had to explain to my friends later (after I did my research) that Denis was like the Kapil Dev of football, and the Carling Cup was like the Ranji Trophy. And like a true Indian, I wasn’t satisfied with seeing the Old Trafford football ground. I went and paid homage to the Lancashire County Cricket Club (or the Old Trafford Cricket Ground). I even wanted to end the night at the “Curry Mile” of Manchester, but the horrendous post-match traffic, moving at 5 miles an hour, made sure I didn’t make it 🙂

But it was a fun trip. Went to a nice pub called the Britons Protection. This was rated as one of the best places for a pint in my Lonely Planet guide – and Lonely Planet is always right. If you are ever in Manchester, ensure you go there and try the “Witches Cauldron” (I think I got the name right) beer. And Gay-pride parade is quite a spectacle too!
Maggie Thatcher coming out!